Hillicon Valley — ‘Twitter Files’ fuel partisan showdown
A House Oversight hearing featuring former Twitter employees led to a heated debate among lawmakers. Even a brief power outage in the hearing room didn’t cool things down as Democrats lambasted Republicans for holding a hearing the Democrats said was a waste of time and resources.
Meanwhile, advocates said they are encouraged by President Biden’s push for kids’ online safety in his State of the Union address — but claimed the backing is long overdue.
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Democrats blast GOP over Twitter hearing
Democrats formed a united front Wednesday, painting Republicans as staging a distracting political stunt during the GOP’s first hearing targeting social media companies’ content policies.
Republicans grilled former Twitter executives at a hearing of the House Oversight and Accountability Committee over their decision to limit the spread of a story about President Biden’s son more than two years ago.
- The hearing fulfilled a pledge GOP officials made to use their newly reclaimed House majority to crusade against continuing allegations of anti-conservative censorship by social media companies.
- The heated hearing, interrupted by a brief power outage in the room, showcased a hyper-partisan divide in the House on content moderation issues.
Republicans pressed the former Twitter employees present on internal communications published through a Twitter thread in December. Democrats sought to highlight concerns about the spread of pro-Trump election misinformation that fueled the Jan. 6, 2021, riot at the Capitol.
“I don’t know precisely how we are going to solve the problem of private social media platforms being used for the organization of political coups and incitement of violent insurrections. But this is a grave problem confronting democracy in America and all over the world, not a phony, silly, concocted partisan issue,” ranking member Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said.
Other Democrats expressed irritation about the hearing being held at all.
“We’re wasting our time here bullying former Twitter employees,” Rep. Maxwell Frost (D-Fla.) said. “It’s calling the refs, so that way in the future when they want disinformation to be put on the internet, social media companies will be scared to call them out down the road.”
WHITE HOUSE CYBER CZAR TO RETIRE NEXT WEEK
White House cyber adviser Chris Inglis is set to resign from his post as national cyber director next week, The Hill has learned.
Inglis, who was appointed by Biden as the nation’s first national cyber director, is set to serve his last day on Feb. 15 after decades of government national security work and a year-and-a-half in the position.
It was reported late last year that Inglis would step down from the role as President Biden’s principal adviser on cybersecurity policy and strategy and cybersecurity engagement with the country’s key stakeholders.
Inglis’s principal deputy, Kemba Eneas Walden, will reportedly step up as acting director until the White House nominates an official successor.
Advocates: Biden’s push on kids’ safety is ‘overdue’
During his State of the Union address, President Biden urged Congress to pass legislation aimed to protect kids’ privacy online, a move seen as encouraging but long overdue.
Platforms like Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter and YouTube have all come under fire for playing a role in what researchers say are rising rates of depression and anxiety in children.
In his speech, Biden said that social media companies must be held accountable “for the experiment they are running on our children for profit.”
“It’s time to pass bipartisan legislation to stop Big Tech from collecting personal data on kids and teenagers online, ban targeted advertising to children, and impose stricter limits on the personal data these companies collect on all of us,” he added.
GOP ASKS DOJ FOR INFO ON BIDEN, TECH COMMUNICATIONS
Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee are requesting documents that include communications between the Biden administration and social media companies as part of the panel’s investigation into what the GOP says were efforts to “suppress free speech and censor content online.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the chairman of the Judiciary Committee, on Wednesday penned a letter to Brian Boynton, the principal deputy assistant attorney general in the civil division, requesting that the Justice Department turn over documents that it provided in an earlier lawsuit filed by GOP-led states involving purported free speech violations.
The Hill obtained a copy of the letter, which requests that the materials are handed over by Feb. 22.
“The Committee on the Judiciary is conducting oversight of the Executive Branch’s efforts to sidestep the First Amendment by coercing and coordinating with private companies, including social media platforms, to suppress free speech and censor content online,” Jordan wrote.
MUSK’S PERSONAL PUSH
Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) said on Tuesday that Twitter CEO Elon Musk personally reached out to him to resolve his account suspension.
Daines’s account was suspended on Tuesday morning after he posted a picture showing him and his wife hunting an antelope, an apparent violation of Twitter’s media policy.
The senator’s account was restored the same day after Musk said the suspension was “being fixed.”
“I am grateful Elon Musk reached out to me to resolve this issue and am glad that he recognizes that free speech is a bedrock of our country, and acted quickly to reinstate my Twitter account after being made aware of its suspension,” Daines said in a statement.
BITS & PIECES
An op-ed to chew on: Can companies be virtuous and still turn a profit?
Notable links from around the web:
Meta, Long an A.I. Leader, Tries Not to Be Left Out of the Boom (The New York Times / Cade Metz and Mike Isaac)
Google is scrambling to catch up to Bing, of all things (Vox / Sara Morrison)
Tech Volunteers Rush to Save Turkey’s Earthquake Survivors (Wired / Robyn Huang)
ONE MORE THING
Congress probes airline meltdowns
Congress is digging into the air travel mess following high-profile meltdowns at the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and Southwest Airlines.
Lawmakers on Tuesday held their first hearing on aviation safety since last month’s FAA system outage that forced the U.S. to ground all flights for the first time in decades.
The hearing kicks off a series of investigations into recent disruptions caused by airlines and the FAA, which is seeking a five-year funding package from Congress this year.
“Our aviation system is clearly in need of some urgent attention,” said Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
That’s it for today, thanks for reading. Check out The Hill’s Technology and Cybersecurity pages for the latest news and coverage. We’ll see you tomorrow.
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